Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Road to 17: 1994

The Road to 17 is a longer-form look at each losing season that the Pirates have had since their last playoff appearance in 1992. The object is not to wallow in the misery of the Pirates, but instead remember just what it is that makes us Pirate fans in the first place. Every team has their great moments, the Pirates' are just fewer and further between. Today, we hit the second stop on the Road to 17: 1994.

1994 means one thing to baseball fans: the strike. The horror of canceling the World Series over a labor squabble. I certainly didn't grasp the entirety of the situation at the time. I remember political cartoons with Don Fehr and Jerry Reinsdorf lampooning both of them for not being able to get anything done. I remember holding Barry Bonds up in my head as the icon of player greed after what he'd done to the Pirates. I remember it all seeming strange that there was no playoffs or World Series, even if I'd only really been watching the playoffs and World Series for about two years (or maybe it was longer ... I was nine). And maybe it's for all those reasons that the thing I remember most about 1994 is certainly not the strike.

For me, 1994 will always be about the All-Star Game and the FanFest. I had wanted to go all year, of course, but didn't think there was any real chance of it. My dad didn't have season tickets at the time (we didn't start sharing the package with my uncle until PNC opened) and he'd told me as much early in the year. Shortly before the day of the game, my dad told me that not only had he happened to get two seats, but they were also in a luxury box. The only condition to go was that I never asked him where the seats came from. This wasn't because he'd done something to get them, but rather that they came from the dad of a friend of mine who couldn't be bothered to take his own baseball-loving son to the All-Star Game. Sometimes we don't know how lucky we are.

Anyways, we went to Pittsburgh early the day of the game for the FanFest, something that I was just as excited for as I was for the game. Probably my favorite part of the FanFest was going to the booth they had set up where you could announce your favorite moments in Pirate history. The line there was fairly long and they had TVs displaying the people in the booth doing their own announcements. As my dad and I waited, two guys who were probably about the age I am now were in there announcing Sid Bream's slide:

"They're waving Bream around third! This is crazy! Bonds' throw is up the line! Bream is out! He's out! Inning over! The Braves are pouring out of the dugout! They're beating Bream at home plate! They can't believe he ran! We're going to extra innings!"

It's good to know that Pirate fans were laughing at themselves after a year and a half of losing. After a few hours at the FanFest, we made our way from the Convention Center over to Three Rivers for the game. I remember the incredibly surreal feeling the strike gave the game; there was a story in a newspaper about the Indians being tied for first at the All-Star break in the first time in a long time, and we commented how weird it was that it might not even matter. It didn't seem real then, even though everyone knew it was probably going to happen.

The game itself was awesome. Carlos Garcia, one of the most terrible forgotten All-Stars of all time, was the Pirate representative, Three Rivers went wild when he managed to get a hit. In the bottom of the ninth, the AL held a 7-5 lead and brought Lee Smith in to close. Pirate fans all over the stadium, but especially my dad and I, knew what that meant. Lee Smith could never hold a lead in Pittsburgh. He gave up a two-run homer to Fred McGriff, which set the stage for Moises Alou's tenth inning double and Jim Leyland (who coached third for the NL that night) wildly waving a chugging Tony Gwynn home to score the winning run.

The Pirates that year? There really wasn't much memorable about them. Looking at their Baseball-Reference page, only Al Martin and Jay Bell had an OPS+ of over 100. Brian Hunter started at first base. Rick White made his first appearance as a Pirate and no one had any clue he'd be kicking around in #00 eleven years later. But they didn't actually do any worse than any other team in the league because no one won the World Series that year and hey, what's two straight losing seasons anyways?

So really, when you get down to it, 1994 wasn't all that bad.